GOP wants feds to reinstate Medicaid work rules, even as coronavirus hits Michigan

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As Michigan prepares for and fights against the global pandemic of COVID-19, House Republicans on Thursday passed a resolution to ask the federal government to re-establish work requirements for Medicaid eligibility. 

There’s particular concern about how lower-income people will cope with the pandemic, as they have fewer resources for medical care. 

House Concurrent Resolution 17, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance), asks U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to appeal a federal court ruling that waives work requirements for Medicaid in Michigan. It passed 56-51 and is now before the Michigan Senate.

Michigan implemented in 2018 the Healthy Michigan Plan work standards, which required individuals to report work and qualifying activities to be eligible for health care. On March 4, a federal judge ruled that the rules were unlawful.

Federal court chucks Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements 

State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) defended this resolution on the House floor, saying it encourages able-bodied individuals to seek out work so they can reap the benefits tax dollars.

“What this does is it simply encourages habits that will make these individuals sustainable, long-term,” Chatfield said. 

State Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) asked on the House floor how legislators can ask their residents to practice social distancing as a preventative measure for this global pandemic and then turn around and make staying home when they feel sick impact access to health care.

“Especially in the middle of this day, when we are facing a crisis, an emergency due to the coronavirus, it will be simply unreasonable and downright irresponsible of this chamber,” Garrett said. 

Whitmer wants court to halt Medicaid work mandate

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared on Tuesday a state of emergency after two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the state. Since then, a third case was confirmed. 

Whitmer has made policy changes involving Medicaid since COVID-19 began to spread. The Michigan Medicaid program is waiving all co-pays and cost-sharing for testing and health care treatment related to COVID-19.

And on Thursday, she announced that her administration will expand access to telemedicine for Michiganders by immediately allowing Medicaid beneficiaries to receive services in their home while the state combats the spread of COVID-19. 

In addition, insurance plans like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network of Michigan, Priority Health, Meridian, CVS Health, McLaren and Health Alliance Plan also announced that they will cover and encourage the use of virtual care and telemedicine, as well as waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing. 

Whitmer and Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) Director Anita Fox also called on the Trump administration to allow for a special  enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to allow more Americans, including Michiganders, to sign up for coverage and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

State Medicaid program waives copays for coronavirus tests, treatment

“During this crisis, we must do everything we can to ensure access to quality, affordable health care,” said Whitmer. “That’s why we’re calling on the president to allow for a special enrollment period, and why we’re taking action today in Michigan to expand opportunities for safe, quality care through telemedicine. We will continue to work with our partners across both state and federal government, as well as those in the private sector, to ensure Michiganders everywhere can access the care they need.”

Chief Medical Executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Dr. Joneigh Khaldun presented the state’s response and outlook in front of the state House Health Policy Committee Thursday morning.

Several Michigan universities have moved online and many large gathering events have been cancelled or postponed. Khaldun said social distancing and not going to work sick are key in managing the spread of COVID-19.

“It is really 120% of my time right now is being spent on this, “ Khaldun said. “I’m happy to do it, and I’m happy to lead this effort for the state. 

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After a delay from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and prevention to send out and allow the use of testing kits, Khaldun said health care providers immediately started testing and have done so now for two weeks.

“Based on the testing that we’ve done thus far, I do not see evidence of there being broad community spread,” Khaldun said in regards to spread in Michigan. “I do not know the full denominator for the coronavirus in the state and it is very possible that it is being spread already — which is why it’s so important that we all implemented these community mitigation strategies right.”

COVID-19 is a new virus with a case fatality rate of 1 to 3%, with the greatest risk to seniors and those with respiratory diseases or diabetes, Khaldun said. 

There’s likely underreporting with many mild cases, Khaldun said, as symptoms can be confused with the cold or flu.

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In December 2019, the first human case of the virus in Wuhan, China. By January, the first case was found in the United States. 

Khaldun said the two cases of COVID-19 in Michigan — which were known at the time of her testimony — are presumptive positives, meaning a lab has confirmed it as COVID-19, but the CDC hasn’t confirmed it. The state still acts accordingly.

If someone thinks they have COVID-19 they should get tested, Khaldun said. After her testimony, reporters asked how many tests will be available in the future and Khaldun didn’t answer.